Sneezing is a natural reaction to irritants or allergens in the nose that signals to the body that they need to be removed.
Since most illnesses are contracted through the sinuses and mouth, it only makes sense that sneezing is a way for the body to fend off many sicknesses.
But why do we sneeze when suddenly exposed to a bright light? Like the sun? Or your computer screen? Or even a lamp?
Sound crazy? Well, that’s because, for the majority of the population, it is. In fact, the idea that bright light can catapult someone into a sneezing frenzy sounds downright impossible, but it is an actual condition that affects 11-35 percent of the population.
Why are the statistics so vague? Because it’s not a condition studied much.
Here’s what you should know about why we sneeze.
It is referred to as Photic Sneeze Reflex or autosomal dominant compelling helio-ophthalmic outburst (whose acronym is hysterical “ACHOO”). It’s a condition characterized by successive sneezing induced by bright light.
It varies from normal sneezing, which is triggered by an infection or irritant, and there doesn’t appear to be any biological advantage for the disorder.
What few studies there are regarding the photic sneeze reflex suggest that it is most common in Caucasian females. (Or perhaps white women are the only ones brave enough to admit that the sun can put them into a sneezing frenzy.)
This condition is an inherited trait and is also dominant, so if you have it, it is almost certain that your mom or dad also suffers from it.
Often, those with the ACHOO disorder have deviated septums.
There are a few theories on why light triggers such a seemingly odd response. One is that sneezing involves the optic nerve. A change in light may stimulate this nerve, creating the same sensation as having an irritant in the nose.
This sensation could possibly be responsible for the sneeze. Another theory is that light exposure causes tears, which briefly empty into the nose. This might also cause temporary irritation in the nose, leading to sneezing uncontrollably.
Though this is not part of the photic sneeze reflex, some experience successive sneezes after eating. This can happen due to eating spicy foods or a large meal. Spicy foods may trigger sneezing as receptors in your nose detect capsaicin – a chili pepper extract.
The bottom line, having this condition is not dangerous. A nuisance (maybe), particularly if you are driving. Nonetheless, it’s a genetic trait that gives you a little bit of quirkiness and makes for a great conversation starter.